As a boy a trip to Habitat was a treat, an environment that I found hugely inspirational. I suppose it is no coincidence that when I left college in 1998 and joined the Conran Design Group as a junior designer and furniture prototyper I felt immediately at home working on Habitat products, despite the fact that working in such a huge consultancy was a bit intimidating!
During the following 12 years with my various roles and responsibilities at Habitat, both as employee and latterly as a consultant, I contributed a large number of pieces to the company. Of all of these none are as personally significant as Radius which in 1999, Tom Dixon, then the design director at Habitat, briefed me to undertake.
One of the great things about the experience of designing for Habitat was learning to design furniture to a price and when Tom asked me to think about how to re-establish a perception of quality and longevity with a range of solid wood furniture I jumped at the opportunity...more often than not the need to design cost out of products meant the exclusion of solid wood due to its higher material and production cost. The challenge was to ensure the use of solid wood was obvious, making sure the perception of quality and value for money was tied up in there being no doubt the pieces were made of solid wood, except for where it was pragmatic to use veneered boards.
The next issue was the choice of timber and although not as prevalent as the then popular beech or cherry, Oak seemed the obvious choice as a timber that evokes a level of history, integrity, honesty and familiarity that no other wood possess...at least to me.
The range needed to cover living, dining and bedroom furniture and from the start I aimed to create a range with subtlety and quietness at its core because a range of that size would inevitably need its constituent parts to sit alongside furniture of all styles and materials within peoples homes, be they traditional or contemporary, country or urban.
I am privileged to have had a background of making, being taught from an early age. This experience informed the use of Bridal joints, a nod to a way of joining timber used for millennia, to engender familiarity and a way of expressing the characteristics of solid wood that cannot be 'faked' with the use of veneer and chipboard. The slight tweak was the introduction of a radius to each joint, a feature used on all pieces in the range to bring them together in an obvious but 'quiet' manner.
This detail presented some issues in manufacture and so factory visits, one of the pleasures of furniture development, were a necessary and welcome part of the process as it was only by working with the guys in the factories to develop a way of making external and internal radii on the bridal joints, without adding huge amounts of hand hours and therefore cost, was achieved.
Radius has a timelessness that comes from the expression of solid wood and the joints used in its construction, emphasising the inherent craft values that make the range so popular. Launched in 2000, Radius very quickly became Habitat's best selling furniture range and remains so today, something that couldn't have been predicted and which continues to reinforce to me the value of quiet design with a lack of designer ego and a mind set on interpreting the needs and desires of the user...furniture with soul.Close